Pubdate: Sat, 06 Oct 2012
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2012 Bellingham Herald
Author: David A. Nichols
Note: David A. Nichols is a retired Whatcom County Superior Court judge.


I retired from the bench in 2005, after presiding over Whatcom County 
civil and criminal matters for 20 years. Then, as now, I did not 
believe that marijuana use was an appropriate matter for the criminal 
justice system. I believed that we could more effectively and 
economically tackle marijuana use as a public health issue, and still do.

The only difference I see now is that matters have gotten worse. We 
still arrest more than 9,000 adults every year for the offense of 
possessing marijuana. We still waste police, prosecutor and judge 
time that could be spent on serious crimes. We still saddle otherwise 
law-abiding citizens with criminal records that pose barriers to 
education and employment.

But now, the Canadian gangs and Mexican cartels enriched by marijuana 
prohibition are more violent, and they have extended their operations 
into Washington.

In 2007, a double homicide in an Everett indoor marijuana grow was 
tied to a crime ring from Canada. The same group turned several homes 
in suburban King County neighborhoods into grow operations as well. 
Last October, another ring of homes was raided in Clark County. The 
investigation involved 300 officers from 16 agencies, 56 search 
warrants and 43 arrests. The group had been pulling in approximately 
$27 million a year.

In 2008, agents discovered 200,000 marijuana plants being grown among 
vineyards in the Yakima Valley, and 16,742 being grown in the Ross 
Lake National Recreation Area. Between 2006 and 2010, more than 
500,000 plants were found on the Yakama Reservation. This year, 
93,000 plants were seized from Washington lands in July and August alone.

Here in Whatcom County, tons of B.C. Bud enter the U.S. from lower 
British Columbia, where outlaw motorcycle gangs and Asian crime 
families battle for control of the lucrative trade. Associated gang 
violence is spilling over into Bellingham.

Marijuana is the bread and butter of the multi-national drug 
trafficking organizations. Tons of it are smuggled into the U.S. each 
year by tractor-trailers, airplanes, tunnels and even catapults. Tons 
more are grown on our own soil. The billions of dollars the marijuana 
black market generates subsidize the gangs' production of cocaine and 
heroin, and make it possible for them to buy guns and corrupt governments.

Just as with alcohol Prohibition, our marijuana prohibition is not 
only failing. It is doing real harm. It is relinquishing control to 
the bad guys and making them richer.

We can do better. We can take control of marijuana, tightly regulate 
it, and invest tax revenues in proven public health strategies for 
preventing and treating marijuana abuse. Initiative 502, which will 
be on our November ballot, does just this. It legalizes, regulates 
and taxes the purchase and possession of limited quantities of 
marijuana for adults 21 and over. Only licensed Washington businesses 
would be allowed to grow and sell marijuana, and only through 
standalone, marijuana-only stores located at least 1,000 feet from 
schools, parks and playgrounds. It dedicates hundreds of millions of 
dollars of new marijuana excise taxes to prevention, public health 
education, research, and evaluation.

Initiative 502 will not, by itself, dismantle the violent drug 
trafficking organizations. However, it is a solid first step that can 
provide a model for how a tightly regulated legal market can 
complement law enforcement's efforts to choke off illegal supply 
chains. By separating customers from criminals at the point of sale, 
we deprive these gangs of a significant source of revenue and weaken them.

It's time for a new approach to marijuana. Initiative 502 is a 
thoughtful proposal for change. Please vote yes.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom